Bullying and Accidental Death by a Sibling

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “After spousal killing, children killed by their parents are the most frequent type of family homicide.” But children kill their parents, too, with fathers more likely to be killed by their children than mothers. And while not as frequently, brothers and sisters kill their siblings – “Brothers are more likely than sisters to kill a sibling,” according to the same soure, but sisters kill their brothers, too, as you will soon discover.

The University of Michigan Health System states, “Experts estimate that three children in 100 are dangerously violent toward a brother or sister,” but also references a 2005 study that “puts the number of assaults each year to children by a sibling at about 35 per 100 kids.”

Statistics from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that offenders as young as 6 years old and as old as 93 have killed a sibling. The stories are heart-wrenching. The stats will have to change, though, as you will see from the clips below:

From abclocal, “Jahmir allegedly stabbed his 16-year-old brother Anwan to death in the family’s Lansdowne home last week. Police say the stabbing occurred during an argument between the brothers over whose turn it was to play a video game.”

From philstar, “Also included in the charge sheet are Revilla’s younger sister, Ma. Ramona Bautista, and three others who reportedly helped them plan and execute the crime – Glaiza Vista, Norwin de la Cruz, and a certain Bryan.”

Google news scanned an archived news article from March 20, 1950, in Fresno, California, about a 14-year-old girl who murdered her twin sister and said, “I hated her. I don’t feel bad because my sister is dead…I’d kill Sally again if I had the chance.” Psychologists claimed it was a case of sibling rivalry. I say it went beyond sibling rivalry and escalated to sibling murder.

From wistv, “…Leroy followed his sister into a bedroom where an altercation occurred and the woman stabbed her brother once in the chest with a knife….Leroy was pronounced dead at the home.”

From CBSnews, in June, 2011, “Kansas City police say a 5-year-old girl drowned an 18-month old toddler last Friday to stop his crying….The girl and the toddler, Jermane Johnson Jr., were both left in the care of a mentally handicapped teenager, who was sleeping at the time of the incident…”

Sibling rivalry is not new. Sisters and brothers have been quarreling since the beginning of time. Most of the rivalry eventually turns into friendship as the child matures, but with the proliferation of bullying, sibling rivalry has to be viewed and acted upon differently today.

When children in the 1950s threatened to kill each other, the threats were generally empty, though as you can see from the above report, siblings killing siblings did occur and has been occurring – Cain killed Abel after all. But violence appears to be escalating, and threats have to be taken seriously. A child who today says, “I’m going to kill my brother,” might actually kill his brother.

Parents who think it’s just a case of sibling rivalry need to pay attention to the signs. Arguments between siblings where one sibling competes for a superior position in attempting to win an argument is rivalry. Punching, hitting, kicking, scratching, pulling hair, slamming against the wall, knocking to the ground, and other physical actions that result in pain or injury, along with psychological torment, are all forms of bullying and abuse.

According to the University of Michigan Health System, parents should look for these signs when assessing the difference between sibling rivalry and sibling abuse:

Does the child avoid his or her sibling?
Has the child’s sleeping habits or eating habits changed?
Does the child have nightmares?
Does the child act out abuse in play?
Does the child act in sexually inappropriate ways?
Is one child always the aggressor while one child is always the victim?
Has the roughness or violence escalated over time?

Any one of those questions answered positively could indicate abuse.

Sometimes the child who bullies his or her brothers and sisters at home is him- or herself a victim of bullying, possibly at school. Daughters and sons may be ashamed or embarrassed to admit to their parents that other kids are picking on them. Parents must pay attention to indications of sadness, depression, aggression, and changes in behavior.

Parents need to look at their own behavior, too, because children look upon their parents as role models. How parents discipline at home will impress children who will imitate their parents. However, the type of discipline parents use could be construed as abuse by others.

A father once told me, after the school had noticed bruises all over his son’s body (which they discovered after I called them to tell them that the boy had been thrown against the wall by his father), that his actions were not abusive, because his father threw him against the wall all the time and he turned out OK.

Any physical action parents take against their children that results in bruises, cuts, or even psychological damage shows children that to take control and to be the boss, they must act physically violent. And when children are bullied at school, they may come home and take out their frustration, anger, and rage (at being the target of bullying) on a younger sibling.

Some children act so completely out of control their parents are left wondering what prompted the unacceptable behavior. It’s time parents delved deeply into their child’s life to discover the source of the frustration.

When I married for the second time, my daughter from my first marriage became unmanageable after the birth of my second child. But when the third child appeared, my oldest daughter became enraged.

After talking to counselors, I discovered that she was jealous. She had me all to herself for 11 years and now suddenly she felt she had been replaced – first by my (now ex) husband, then by her sister, followed by a brother, followed by another sister. The anger she felt at me for disrupting her life was targeted against her siblings, mostly her brother, whom she would torment by scaring when nobody was looking (a tactic she learned from my ex when she was in her room watching the Exorcist one night – he scratched the door to scare her – his scare tactic was more than effective – it scarred her for years).

Sometimes the best action for parents to take (as a last resort or when other children may be at risk) is to remove the child from the home, and though the child will resent the action, the child has to learn that bullying, threats to kill, and violence are unacceptable.

The University of Michigan Health System states, “Sibling abuse is the physical, emotional or sexual abuse of one sibling by another. The physical abuse can range from more mild forms of aggression between siblings, such as pushing and shoving, to very violent behavior such as using weapons. 

Often parents don’t see the abuse for what it is. As a rule, parents and society expect fights and aggression among siblings. Because of this, parents often don’t see sibling abuse as a problem until serious harm occurs (emphasis mine).”

Dr. Vernon Wiehe, professor of social work at the University of Kentucky and author of Perilous Rivalry: When Siblings Become Abusive, offers the following effective parental response when parents suspect sibling abuse:

“First, bring all children involved into a problem-solving process. Get enough fact and feeling information to assess the problem accurately.

Restate the problem to make sure you understand it clearly.

Help children to arrive at a child-set goal. (Goals set by parents often become rules that children will not follow.)

Figure out alternative solutions to the problem.

Work together to set up a contract which states the rights and responsibilities of each child. Specify appropriate ways of acting and consequences should abusive behavior occur in the future.
You can take steps to prevent sibling abuse. minimize (sic) the violence they see (and might emulate) (parenthesis added) by monitoring what your children watch on TV. Reward sensitive, positive behavior among brothers and sisters. Most importantly, make it a point to be a model of positive and esteem-building behavior.”

Don’t wait until the violence escalates to the point of death. Save both the victim and the aggressor.
For more on bullying and self esteem, please read, 47 Ways to Build Your Child’s (and Your) Self Esteem and Socializing, Peer Pressure, and Bullying: At Lunch, on the Bus, During Recess (Raising Confident Children and Managing Bullies).

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/bullying.html (National Institute of Health – MedlinePlus)
http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/homicide/family.cfm (Bureau of Justice Statistics)
http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/sibabuse.htm (University of Michigan)

Photo credits: Author/auteur: Paul Gustave Doré Source: Scan from a Dutch bible.

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